Sometimes it seems like there’s no escape. Even in the midst of my first yoga training course of the month, my brain won’t shut off. How can I incorporate these ideas into my classes? Should I write a book about them? A blog entry?
We are learning the principle of Nada Yoga – the yoga of sound – from my 60-year-old teacher Swami Shantimurti Saraswati. He sits at the front of the room in lotus, his white-grey hair in a low ponytail, as always, shrouded in orange saddhu robes.
As usual, he has digressed, telling a story about himself as a 23-year-old swami in Australia. He’s riding a bus and a girl with black hair and lipstick and tattoos sits down next to him. He turns to look at her. She slaps him. He follows her off the bus at the next exit, intrigued. She enters a cafe. He goes in as well. She is waiting for him inside the entrance. She slaps him across the cheek, again.
This is his initiation into a sort of coven of dark arts. He doesn’t stay for long, just long enough for his fascination with the girl to fade. He comes away with one valuable lesson. At gatherings, they would play music – a collection of slightly disturbing, disjointed sounds. He was offput by the noise at first, unlike anything he’d heard. But he noticed as time went by, that this “music” helped him go deep within himself, farther into meditation than he’d ever gone.
I liked the story particularly because that always seems to be the case – no matter what you become involved with, however strange or worthless it may seem, you can always use the experience. Take what you like and leave the rest.
As he finishes the story, Shanti looks around at us like he always does, and asks “Why am I talking about this?” I had no recollection, but someone piped up, “The yoga of sound…”
(While we are digressing, let me just say, I looked up because there was a sound outside the window, and saw two horses galloping through the grounds to the beach.)
Shanti goes on to tell us about the various sounds that resonate within specific areas of the body. “Say you are holding anger,” he says, “and you are aware you are holding anger, maybe even willing to let it go. Chant this sound, feel it vibrate through the body, and it can dissipate the anger you are holding onto.”
I’ve never been able to chant by myself. Sometimes I can chant while cleaning my apartment or something, and listening to the chant, like the ones on Chants of India with George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. But, for anyone brave enough, here’s what we did. You inhale deeply and chant the sound for as long as you can with exhale, maybe 3 minutes or so repeating the sound with each exhale. (I felt a little like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.)
1. UU (who)
2. OH (go)
3. AH (car)
4. EY (pray)
5. EE (knee)
6. MM (humming, lips closed)
We also did a variety of sounds relating to each chakra point, but the instructions are just a tiny bit more complicated. Anyway, while we were practicing this exercise, the thoughts kept coming, persistent and fast at first. How can I make this esoteric practice fun and palatable in a class? Can I learn to play the harmonium? Does it matter that I don’t have the most melodious singing voice?
And then, I gave myself over to the sounds and their reverberations throughout the space. My mind was vibrating, and I could feel and see myself within the sound. Everyone in the room was part of the sound, and even outside the room, everything had the same sound. When we became silent, we listened inside our minds for the sound. I’d like to say I heard it inside myself once everything had gone still, but I didn’t. The thoughts trailed back in again, stealthy, like thieves. I’m not working hard enough to incorporate this new idea into an idea for a class. I need to be on top of it, not let this month just slip by without making something tangible and applicable out of the teachings.
We sat down for rice and dahl later for dinner, me across from Karmamurti, Shanti’s 80-year-old father. Someone asked him what he did all day, apart from baking bread and practicing yoga in the mornings. He looked over at me, and said, “I just let go and allow things to happen.”
I don’t know why he looked at me, but because he did, and because I needed to hear them, the words took root somewhere inside. It’s funny how you can hear the same message over and over again, and yet, one day you understand it newly – fresh born and alive.
The next day, preparing lunch with another yoga teacher, we talked about what Karmamurti had said. She’d gone to the beach after dinner for a walk, and had just stumbled across a new idea for publicizing her wellness business. “I’ve been trying for a while to find a solution,” she said. “And then I let it go and went for a walk, and that’s when the idea came to me.”
It was like I could see a light through the clouds, just I did on the deck this morning, and I knew all I could do was stop worrying. Again the message came, loud and clear – stop the pursuit and just be here now.